This Post has nothing directly to do with horses, so you may decide to ignore it. But, as I did for my father John Hebrock and for my best friend Gerald Bremseth, who both passed away in 2013, I must now do for my mother, who left this world on September 14th.
As I’ve often said about horse feet (ok, I did get horses in here!): it’s all about the balance. The same is true of nearly every aspect of life, and, in my life, my mother was in many respects the offsetting force that counterbalanced both my father’s strong drive towards perfection in everything he did, and his admitted lack of patience with anything and anyone that fell short of the mark.
Unfortunately, my father was also a very busy man, so projects around the house would often get started but not finished in any sort of a timely manner – simply because he didn’t have the time to do things exactly right, yet couldn’t bear to do things that weren’t perfect (I, too, suffer from this particular malady). My mother, on the other hand, was far more concerned with getting things done, whether they were perfect or not. A great example of this “difference in styles” could be seen in the main bathroom of the home I grew up in.
In 1962, my parents decided to purchase an unfinished house – the framing was completed, but nothing else – to finish themselves, which involved many, many trips to various lumberyards and supply houses with a trailer in tow. Because the bathroom was fairly narrow, my father spent a great deal of time and effort building a curved vanity with a matching cabinet door so one wouldn’t immediately walk into a sharp corner upon entering the bathroom. He spent hours on that cabinet, trying a wide assortment of construction techniques to achieve a door with an absolutely perfect arc. And the result was, indeed, perfect, and the rest of the bathroom came together quite nicely.
Except for the shelves and molding in the closet. Somehow, finishing them ended up a very low priority for my father, who had moved on to other projects once the rest of the bathroom was in hand. But not for my mother; she wanted the entire bathroom done, so although she’d frequently pester him about finishing, he never managed to return to it. So she finally took matters into her own hands, and cut the remaining pieces of lumber, nailed them up, and painted them. All blunt cuts, mind you – no miters! But it was done. And although my father was furious about her less-than-perfect work, that bathroom was still the same when the house was sold last year – 52 years later!
To be fair: she, too, was a perfectionist when it came to the things she was passionate about. Unlike his largely technical undertakings, my mother leaned heavily towards pursuits involving compassion for those in need. Trained as a registered nurse, she spent her life helping others: working in the pediatric ward of the local hospital, managing the needs of mentally and physically challenged children and adults in a county-run facility, caring for patients during ambulance transport, and other humanitarian efforts. It even extended to more “public” public service: she was the first female Village Trustee and Deputy Mayor of our small town in western NY.
And she had a great sense of humor! When we were kids, our grandmother (her mother) would often sew shirts as birthday or Christmas gifts for my brother and me, which we really enjoyed and appreciated. But shortly before one particular Christmas, my mother very solemnly sat us down to explain that our grandmother had also decided to give us bow ties with our new shirts, which my mother knew we intensely disliked. “Just pretend to be surprised and pleased,” she said. “You don’t want to hurt her feelings, after all.” Over the next days, we worried a lot about those bow ties and how we were going to manage to fool my grandmother into believing we were happy about them. And so, that Christmas morning, when our grandmother handed us the packages containing the shirts and bow ties, we both steeled ourselves to act pleased with the new additions to our wardrobe. And when we opened the boxes, we found our new shirts sporting bow ties…made out of $20 bills! They both had a terrific laugh over that!
But for many, one of her most memorable characteristics was her bright blue eyes, which often seemed to sparkle as if she were enjoying the most pleasant experience in the world that no one else was privy to. I remember seeing them shine many times in my younger days, especially when one of us accomplished something special like earning a good grade or playing an especially good concert. Indeed, her pride in her family and our achievements was always obvious, and shared with anyone who would listen.
Tragically, my mother was robbed of much of her vitality on a dark road one night in December of 1984, when my parents’ car struck the unlit trailer of a log truck a few miles from their home. Although both of them sustained multiple serious injuries in that crash, my mother suffered a head trauma that left her forever physically and emotionally impaired, and hastened the onset of dementia. A stroke in 2008 made things considerably worse, and necessitated her remaining in a nursing facility for the remainder of her life.
Still, she did what she could. Just a couple of years ago, one of the workers in the nursing home mentioned that my mother had been helping her study for her nursing exams, quizzing her on symptoms and treatments for cardiac disease. I wasn’t surprised by the news, because that was my mother – always helping others.
As anyone well-acquainted with my mother certainly knows, there’s a great deal more I could say about her. But this will have to suffice for now. Without a doubt, she touched the lives of many, many people in ways both acknowledged and unknown; as one of her caregivers of the last few years wrote to me, “I’ll miss your mother. She was a remarkable person.” And, along the way, my mother showed me over and over again that having compassion for others, and helping them to the best of one’s abilities, is an honorable and right and rewarding way to live.
I’m eternally grateful for what you so freely gave, mom. I will always miss you, but I’m glad you’ve finally found the peace you so richly deserve.
You were, indeed, a remarkable person…